Writer’s Block: Why Dresden?


About 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles recreate the Procession of the Saxony Kings.

Why have I been reluctant to write about Dresden, which I visited ten months ago?  The Florence on the Elbe is the awe-inspiring beautiful city of my paternal ancestors and a major player in World War II. Dresden’s place in 20th century history, however, raises a moral dilemma:  Were the Allies just in firebombing and destroying the city, obliterating historic architecture and museums, and most tragically, killing thousands of civilians as well as the Nazis?


My writer’s block comes from not knowing how to get my head around that moral dilemma.  Former RAF Warrant Officer, Harry Irons, reported that he was one of the bombers who dropped over 3900 tons of explosives on the city; his guilt haunted him for years. The issue is so complex, however, that no one even knows the exact number killed.  In 2009, the History Channel reported that between 35,000 and 135,000 people perished.  More current sources, including a BBC report on the 70th anniversary of Dresden’s destruction, state that the number was 25,000. Even if the lower number is correct, thousands died, mainly civilians. Was the attack a moral one?


Justification for the attack,  Peter Rowe of the San Diego Union Tribune explains, is based on the following two points:

Where are railroad yards?  They are in the middle of cities, so bombing Dresden meant killing civilians. The Allies, according to the History Channel, not only wanted to disrupt communications, they also believed it was imperative to “terror[ize] the German population,” thus “forcing an early surrender.”


A piece of the rubble from the Frauenkirche left as a memorial


Critics argue that the February 13, 1945, attack came at the end of the war when the Allies were the wrestlers on top ready to pin their savage opponents to the mat; thus, the bombing was unnecessary.  Rowe points out that argument is specious since the “aircrews, had no advance word of when peace would arrive” with Germany surrendering in May and Japan in August. The History Channel also supports critics’ views that while “no German city remained isolated from Hitler’s war machine, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities.”

The truth still remains, however, that the Nazis were the first to firebomb cities; Warsaw, Rotterdam,  London, Coventry, and other cities were all victims. Their vampire-like thirst for the blood of innocents was insatiable. Their extermination of the Jews and other populations was barbarous and incomprehensible.  According to Dante’s Inferno, Hitler and his Nazi minions are incarcerated in Hell’s Circle 7, Ring 1, where those who wage war against their neighbors are immersed forever in a river of boiling blood and fire.  How appropriate.

Whether Dresden’s demise was necessary to topple the devil’s denizens will continue to be debated. Harry Irons, mentioned above, said  he has made peace with his conscience after finally visiting Auschwitz a few years ago and realizing that the inhumanity there could have been brought to England. Many still have no definitive answer for this moral dilemma.


I do have an answer for writer’s block, one I should have heeded months ago:  just start writing. I also have advice for tourists to Dresden:  realize that you are walking on holy ground. The city was re-built over the burned dead. All were not guilty. Some were innocents trapped in Hitler’s evil web.


Under tourists’ feet lie the ashes of thousands of people incinerated by the immense heat and fire of the bombing.


Do go, however, to Dresden which is now re-built and re-stored to its former beauty. There you will see the Frauenkirche, the 18th century Baroque Church of Our Lady, Dresden’s symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. This building lay in a nest of ruins for 50 years before it rose up and flew over Dresden’s skyline again.  The rubble was left as a war memorial until 1989 when private citizens in Germany and abroad started an action group to raise funds for the church’s resurrection. The project was an ecumenical one. In fact, the son of one of the pilots who dropped the deadly bombs created the gold cross on top of the church’s bell tower; the English city of Coventry donated the cross.


The Lutheran Church’s Frauenkirche with the monument to Martin Luther in front


The Frauenkirche today is a testament to modern technology.  The architects and builders were able to construct the building using burnt stones from the rubble.  The result is an intricate jig saw puzzle of a project where the dark original stones pepper the light-colored modern stones.

The church’s website eloquently explains the effect of using the original stones: “The dark colouring of the old stones and the dimensional differences in the joint areas between the new and old masonry resemble the scars of healed wounds. In this way, the Frauenkirche will testify to the history of its destruction in the future too. At the same time, however, it is testimony to the overcoming of enmity and a sign of hope and reconciliation.” The building today is a testament to humankind’s belief that good will always overcome evil.


The dark stones represent both the terror of the past and hope for the future.


The Frauenkirche is not a lone Phoenix; there is a flock of them since most of the city was obliterated. History Today reports that 27 of Dresden’s churches were either destroyed or severely damaged, including the Catholic Hofkirche, the Court Church. The Hofkirche had 12,000 parishioners before the raid; afterwards, there were only 500 who survived.  


The Hofkirche’s spire points again to heaven.

Another notable resurrected building is the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, the Kunstverein. Its iconic glass dome is called the “Lemon Squeezer” because of its shape.


The “Lemon Squeezer” dome rises up from one wing of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts.


Another risen Phoenix is the 18th century Baroque masterpiece, the  Zwinger, which held the electoral art galleries and library, showcased the court’s festivities, and displayed a garden and an orangery in its courtyard.


The Zwinger Today


Marcia and I are at the Crown Gate, ready to explore the Zwinger’s three museums.


In the 19th century, one side of the Zwinger’s courtyard was closed, and the Semper Building was built to house then, as today, the prestigious Old Masters Picture Gallery.  Among its many well-known masterpieces, the most revered is arguably Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna.


The well-known and well-loved angels rest at the Sistine Madonna’s feet. 


Also at the Zwinger is the Royal Cabinet of Mathematics and Physical Instruments, a museum devoted to the display of scientific pieces from the 16th to the 19th centuries. There are clocks, maps, globes, telescopes, and other mechanical gadgets that shaped the world of yore, making it the world of today. Clocks run from the fanciful . . .


Bear with me while I beat out the time.

to the elaborate: Eberhard Baldewein’s Astronomical Clock from the late 1500s.


This four-sided clock has beautiful, intricate details from every angle.

Mythical creatures snake around globes . . .


Baroque Celestial Globe

while maps chart the known world of the time.


Where are Washington, Oregon, and California?


The art gallery and science museum hold wonders, but the most delightful museum to me is the Porcelain Museum.  Who knew that hard china could elicit such warm feelings? The story goes that Augustus the Strong locked his apothecary in a laboratory until he could turn lead into gold, which he failed to do. He did, however, discover how to make white porcelain.  (The Japanese had kept their process a secret.)  Augustus loved this porcelain passionately, and we see his glorious collection today–a fanciful gathering of Meissen animals, birds, and flowers alongside inspirational Japanese and Chinese pieces.

Walking down the museum’s main corridor, I first noticed the artistic arrangement of Asian pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries.


There are porcelain pieces here in perfect condition that are over 400 years old.

When I reached the end of the hall, however, and turned the corner, I let out a gasp of delight.  Perched on Chinese-style baldachins were life-sized white porcelain animals.


Augustus the Strong’s Menagerie

I quickly rushed forward to get a closer look, realizing that the animals had  distinct personalities: proud, fierce, sedate, and so on.


Where else would a king’s pets sit but on golden boulders?

I walked slowly around the display until I found my favorite. All mothers can remember days like this one.


Mother monkey seems to have reached the end of her patience.

Other white critters lined the wall’s edges as shown in the mirror below. Overall. the room reflected an artistic elegance that was sophisticated and playful at the same time.


The Meissen porcelain animals are something to crow about.

The artistry spilled out of the zoo and into the garden.


You can’t touch the flowers, but you want to do so to make sure they aren’t real.

In the piece below, the animal world and the natural world co-exist with both humans and the gods. Augustus the Strong’s apothecary may not have made gold, but he left a new art form, one whose beauty has not diminished over the centuries.


Equestrian statue of Augustus III


Dresden’s beauty has also not diminished over time, thanks to the dedication of all of those who helped in her reconstruction–both financially and physically. While her history may be tragic and still fuels the discussion about a moral dilemma, Dresden is not an old lady wearing a sad face and tattered garments.  Instead, through her rebirth, she is a modern gal, proudly wearing her hopeful cloak of reconciliation.  She deserves a visit.


Your carriage awaits for your tour of Dresden.